How Bahrain Broke Int’l Law by Revoking Top Shia Cleric’s Citizenship?

Bahraini demonstrators attend a protest against the revocation of the citizenship of top Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim,  near Qassim's house in the village of Diraz, west of Manama.

Bahraini demonstrators attend a protest against the revocation of the citizenship of top Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, near Qassim’s house in the village of Diraz, west of Manama./Photo: PressTV

By: Khalil Abdi*

Bahrain regime on June 20, 2016 stripped Sheikh Isa Qassim of his Bahraini citizenship. Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim is Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric as well as spiritual leader of the country’s revolution. An interior ministry statement accused Sheikh Isa of using his position to “serve foreign interests and promote sectarianism and violence.” It added that “he has been in continuous contact with the organizations and parties that are enemies of the kingdom.” The statement was followed by immediate reaction of Bahrainis. Demonstrations in the towns of Bilad al-Qadim, Buri and Sitra erupted into violence following clashes between protesters and security forces and Bahrain Forum for Human Rights has also censured the decision, calling the measure arbitrary and against international laws.

 

Bahrain regime cited article 10 of Bahraini Citizenship Act (1963) as a ground for deprivation of Sheikh’s nationality. But what is the basis for Bahrain’s claim in the international law?
Article 10 of the Bahraini Citizenship Act is about denationalization of nationality under certain circumstances. It set forth that “citizenship of Bahrain may be deprived from whoever enjoys such nationality on the following cases:
(a) If he enters in military service of a foreign country,
(b) If he helps or engages in service of an enemy country, or
(c) If he causes harm to the security of the State.
Bahrain regime has mostly relied upon section (c) of this article. Whereas Bahrain regime offers no evidence indicative of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s participation in acts which would harmful to the national security of Bahrain. We will examine the position of the international law considering the deprivation of nationality.
Article 8, section (1) of The UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness 1961 expresses that “a contracting state shall not deprive a person of its nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless.” It is noteworthy that this convention is simply the most important international instrument concerning the nationality issue.
Article 13 of Universal Declaration on Human Rights states as following ” Everyone has the right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Also article 7 of European Convention on Nationality 1997 states that “a state party may not provide for the loss of its nationality, if the person concerned would thereby become stateless.”
The text of the aforementioned provisions –each of them would be considered as the most important human rights texts- is quite clear, and straightforwardly put that stripping a person of its nationality without any conclusive evidences is fully contrary to the international law norms. Therefore, the act of Bahrain regime has violated both contractual as well as customary international law.
For the sake of justification of its illegal act, Bahrain regime has declared harm to its national security as a ground for stripping Sheikh Isa Qassim of his nationality. But what is the stance of such a claim in terms of legitimacy and admissibility in the international law.
Article 4 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 set forth that ” In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, color, sex, language, religion or social origin.” Also article 15 of European Court of Human Rights brings up exactly the same provision. This article clearly emphasizes that even if there is such a condition, instances as race, sex, language, and religion should not be involved in derogation of rights. Interior ministry of Bahrain said the cleric had “adopted theocracy and stressed the absolute allegiance to Shia clergy, as well as trying to establish Shia administration in Bahrain.”
Bahrain regime has obviously stressed its non-compliance to basic standards of human rights, in terms of prohibition of discrimination. On the other hand, almost all commentaries concerning the article 4 of ICCPR has had a very strict interpretation of this article as an instrument to derogate from some human rights obligations. For instance, General Comment 29 of Human Rights Committee, which is the commentary organ of The UN human rights conventions, mentions two necessary conditions for a derogation being permissible. It states that “measures derogating from the provisions of the Covenant must be of an exceptional and temporary nature. Before a State moves to invoke article 4, two fundamental conditions must be met: the situation must amount to a public emergency which threatens the life of the nation, and the State party must have officially proclaimed a state of emergency. The latter requirement is essential for the maintenance of the principles of legality and rule of law at times when they are most needed.”
It is obvious that, in the case Bahrain, none of these conditions has been met; there is no public emergency situation in Bahrain threatening the life of nation, and if so, there has not been any official proclamation about existence of such condition in Bahrain.
With regard to the aforesaid reasons, we come to believe that the act of Bahrain regime in stripping Sheikh Isa Qassim of his Bahraini citizenship, not only has violated the international law, but also relying of regime upon national security clause does not conform the conditions that the international law has set in this regard.

* Khalil Abdi is an alumnus of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s School of International Relations and expert on International Law.

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